Steve Kordek: Inventor whose work revolutionised pinball machines
Known for his commentary on international relations and US politics, Rupert Cornwell also contributes obituaries and occasionally even a column for the sports pages. With The Independent since its launch in 1986, he was the paper's first Moscow correspondent - covering the collapse of the Soviet Union – during which time he won two British Press Awards. Previously a foreign correspondent for the Financial Times and Reuters, he has also been a diplomatic correspondent, leader writer and columnist, and has served as Washington bureau editor. In 1983 he published God's Banker, about Roberto Calvi, the Italian banker found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge.
Saturday 25 February 2012
Steve Kordek was an unsung revolutionary of 20th century America. His chosen field was notwarfare or politics, sport or art.
He put the flipper on the pinball machine – and in doing so, turned an entertaining game of chance into an even more addictive game of skill. To this day, even though pinball has been largely supplanted by electronic games, Chicago remains the centre of the industry. Kordek spent more than six decades in the business there before he retired in 1999, along the way designing more than 100 games for the major manufacturers Genco, Bally and Williams.
His start was almost fortuitous. It was the Depression and Kordek was in distant Idaho, working as a forest ranger in a New Deal programme. But he couldn't stay away from his native Chicago. One day in 1937, searching for work, he stepped into a factory entrance to shelter from the rain, and a woman inside asked him if he was looking for a job.
The factory happened to be that of Genco, and Kordek was taken on. First he worked as a solderer, then on the walkie-talkies the company produced during the Second World War, but his engineering and design talents were quickly noticed. Three years after war's end, he came up with the invention that changed pinball history.
It was called Triple Action, inspired by Humpty Dumpty, a 1947 machine from Gottlieb, one of Genco's competitors, that featured six weak flippers in the upper part of the board. On Triple Action Kordek installed a single pair of strong flippers at the bottom that sent balls fizzing back to the top of the board. In those first models, the flippers faced outward, not inward as today, but America was hooked.
Years later, he insisted the change was simply to cut costs. "I just figured – what the hell – two flippers on a game was enough," he told the ChicagoTribune in 2009. But the innovation had turned a game of simple chance, that traced its origins to the bagatelle played by 18th century French aristocrats, into one that required real dexterity and timing to secure the prize of a free extra game.
The earlier versions of pinball, in which a player rolled balls at random into holes worth varying numbers of points, were highly popular in the Depression. In those days though, the game was generally regarded as a form of gambling, in which a player had no more control of the ball than of cards dealt him at a poker table. For long periods, pinball was banned in New York and other cities; that it originated in Chicago, whose reputation in the 1920s and 1930s was not the most salubrious, didn't help either.
Kordek's pair of flippers opened the way for new generations of games, with countless new features, including a couple he also pioneered in the early 1960s, the swinging target and multi-ball play. Not only in the US but around the world, the next two decades were mechanical pinball's golden age, before the emergence of video games, Playstations and the rest. In the cafés of Paris, a pinball table became virtually de rigueur. To this day, in unwitting homage to Kordek, the game in France is known as "le flipper".
His own recipe for a successful game, however, was simple. "First, the pictures on the back glass of the game," he explained to the Tribune. "Second, if what a player sees on the play field is different, that's a success. And when the features are so exciting he wants to put more money in it, you've got him."
Steven Frank Kordek, pinball inventor: born Chicago 26 December 1911; married 1941 Harriet Pieniazek (two sons, two daughters); died Park Ridge, Illinois 19 February 2012.
- 1 Double chins could be 'cured' without surgery or dieting using new injection
- 2 The BBC has just done more to eradicate ‘terrorism’ than all our wars since 9/11
- 3 Dog thinks owner is drowning in lake, dives in and tries to pull him out
- 4 Thank heavens for Louise Mensch and her foul-mouthed tweets to world leaders
- 5 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
Greece elections: Greek PM Alexis Tsipras takes aim at 'neo-liberal' Europe as country gears up for prolonged austerity battle
Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary: Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
Chilling drone footage captures Auschwitz ahead of 70th anniversary of liberation
Prince Philip set to be knighted by Australia: Celebrate by reading his greatest gaffes
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
Islamic history is full of free thinkers - but recent attempts to suppress critical thought are verging on the absurd
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
£125 - £150 per day + Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: A 'wonderful primary ...
£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Our client is an 11-16 mixed commun...
£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly developing company in...
Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Application Architect/Developer - Peterborough, Cam...